Cheavar Blair, PhD, completed his doctorate in physiology at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine in 2017. In 2022, he was recruited back to the department as an assistant professor in the research title series.

Dr. Blair is also one of four College of Medicine faculty selected as a 2024 Disparities Researchers Equalizing Access for Minorities (DREAM) Scholar. The DREAM Scholars Program supports the training of exceptional under-represented minority pre-docs, post-docs, and assistant professors committed to health equity research. During the two-year program, participants engage in seminars to strengthen their career development and core human subjects research, with emphasis on health equity research methods. 

When asked about the importance of Black History Month, Dr. Blair noted the significance of representation in medicine and science. "I mean, if you look around, there are not many African American professors. When I was going through school, I never had an African American professor at any level.”

Reflecting on his personal journey to academia, he shared “as one of the first Black men to get a PhD in Physiology at UK, and as the only black professor in the department, it’s encouraging to know that I'm moving things forward on the diversity front and serving as a trailblazer for those that will come after me.” 

According to the National Science Foundation, only 4.7% of individuals with doctorate degrees identify as Black males. Among the medical sciences, research suggests that percentage is even lower. 

Dr. Blair’s path to a career in research was not a straightforward one. He recalls meeting with mentor Ken Campbell, PhD, professor of cardiovascular medicine and physiology, early into his graduate school tenure to discuss his then-goal of teaching at community college. Dr. Campbell challenged him to do more. 

During the third year of his PhD program, Dr. Blair got a sense of what teaching at a community college would entail. He spent weekends lecturing as an adjunct faculty member at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, further developing his teaching and mentoring skills. This experience also reinforced to Dr. Blair that he would be selling himself short if he did not pursue the passion he was developing for research and the impact of his work with human heart samples. 

He realized that while he would be a good educator at a community college, he may have a greater impact by conducting research. Focusing on research would also allow him to build on his newfound curiosity for finding ways to treat individuals suffering from heart failure. Dr. Blair also began learning more about academic medicine and the combined teaching, mentoring, and research efforts that professors engage in at large academic medical systems like UK, ultimately leading him to his current role. 

As an assistant professor in the department of physiology, Dr. Blair’s research focuses on two of Kentucky’s most urgent healthcare needs – cardiovascular disease and cancer. 

“Unfortunately, a lot of chemotherapies have off-target effects that can damage the heart,” Dr. Blair said. He hopes this research will lead to a better understanding of how cancer drugs degrade heart cells, as well as help develop therapeutic interventions that enhance the heart cell’s ability to regenerate and restore mechanical function.

Additionally, his lab is beginning to investigate genetic mutations and circadian rhythms, utilizing stem cell models to understand how 1) genetic mutations change the size and function of the heart and 2) how disruption to our sleep cycles leads to abnormal heart function. 

Outside of work, Dr. Blair continues to engage with and mentor the next generation. He has been a longtime volunteer with Big Brothers, Big Sisters and shared that he has even kept in touch with his first “little”, even though he’s all grown up now. 

His advice for those interested in pursuing a research career? “Make sure you’re genuinely passionate about it.” Sharing that he spent multiple 12-hour days working on a grant recently, he emphasized finding joy in the work to make the long hours worth it. For learners from underrepresented backgrounds, he further stressed the importance of trusting your gut, noting “trust your instincts— if it feels like it’s a good fit, then lean into it— but always stay flexible and adaptable.” 

“Knowing that I will be able to help create a more comfortable environment for young researchers from underrepresented groups is a big deal,” Dr. Blair said in a 2022 interview. “I want to be someone who is thought of not only as a minority professor, but as someone who is genuinely passionate about developing the next generation of scientists, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, to make sure we have a more inclusive and diverse University as a whole.”